How ROVs Are Utilizing Imaging and Automation Technologies to Innovate Offshore Inspections

As published in the September Issue of SubTel Forum Magazine

By Riley Kooh
September 21, 2022

Abstract:

The adoption of robotics and imaging technology is becoming increasingly more common in the management of critical infrastructure, making submersible remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) crucial tools for asset management in energy, infrastructure and aquaculture industries. Using ROVs, operators can remotely monitor assets and assess changes over time to ensure structural integrity, efficiency and effectiveness while saving money, time and keeping personnel safe.

 

The use of a variety of imaging and modeling technologies on ROVs such as stereo cameras, sonar and lasers allow operators to capture data and build models to compare degradation and changes over time. Using cloud-based software, operators and engineers can share, view and compare their underwater missions in great detail, even through murky or turbid water conditions. Using the latest modeling and positioning software, this crucial data can then be tracked and monitored over time. The resulting information provides asset management teams with invaluable insight to optimize their asset management practices.

 

In addition to gathering advanced data to enhance asset management in a variety of industries, ROV pilots will be able to remotely deploy and control the vehicle to inspect submerged infrastructure from anywhere in the world. Autonomy, remote technologies and progressive web applications continue to advance and empower operators to pilot their ROV beyond line of sight to improve remote operations.

 

Relying on case studies from aquaculture and energy industries, Deep Trekker’s presentation will provide real life examples of ROV use to illustrate how emerging technologies can greatly augment asset management. More specifically, real-world missions will demonstrate the capabilities of the newest portable submersible ROV and imaging technologies to optimize the advancement of asset management for offshore, renewables and aquaculture industries.

 

Offshore Wind

According to the 2018 World Energy Outlook Report, offshore wind can be expected to increase by an astounding 1000% by 2040 [1]. Deep Trekker’s mission in the rapidly growing Offshore Energy industry is to provide robotic solutions to streamline the process of submerged asset inspections, while eliminating the need to put divers at risk. These assets range from pipelines, legs/sea chests on offshore platforms, pilings for offshore wind farms, cable inspections, moorings and more.

 

Below is a map from 4C Offshore showing the location of over 1,000 of the world’s offshore wind farms:

Figure 1: Global Map of Offshore Wind Turbines [2]

There is one clear observable pattern from this map: the majority of the world does not utilize offshore wind to generate electricity, however there is a large cluster around the United Kingdom and Northern Europe, with minor presences in Eastern North America and India. While this may be a relatively centralized concept in a current setting, rapid growth is estimated to raise these 341,000 reported offshore turbines to over 3,000,000 within the next two decades [3].

 

This growth trend has already begun in China, with 16,900 new builds in 2021 alone [4]. As construction ramps up and offshore wind takes a larger presence in providing global energy, ongoing inspections and maintenance will become vital to limit potential downtime.

 

Figure 2: Graph Showing Exponential Development of Offshore Wind Installations [4]

Pre and post construction inspections as well as ongoing surveillance for corrosion and signs of structural wear are how small anomalies can be caught early to streamline production as well as prevent or limit continued maintenance. ROVs offer a cost effective solution for power producers to keep eyes on the submerged portions of their structures with no added hassles of complicated training programs. An on-board ROV removes the expense of regular inspections by servicing companies while still reducing the risk of ignored water-bound structures.

 

 

Offshore Oil & Gas

Looping back to the 2018 World Energy Outlook Report, offshore oil and gas production is projected to grow up to an impressive 30% by 2040 [1]. These developments will produce vast amounts of energy funneling through miles of new pipelines, which will require visual inspections and monitoring during submerged asset construction and installation. Additionally, any offshore pipelines made prior to the early 1970s are considered as “aged or old pipelines”, with lower quality metallurgical constituents and external corrosion coating. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2022 there are still millions of miles of pre-1970s pipe mains being used globally today [5]

Figure 3: Table Breakdown of US-Canada Pipelines [6]

These aged structures have suspected weak points and smaller leaks that over time become larger, creating worsening conditions for the structure. Leaks can be massive and catastrophic, garnering a lot of unwanted negative attention. Having an issue like Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez has obvious environmental degradation, public backlash and safety compromises. Major economic concerns can arise from these situations as well, with BP incurring over $60 billion USD in charges resulting from the incident [7].

 

By implementing dedicated procedures of regular inspections, issues like suspected weak points or small leaks can be addressed before escalation. Building a consistent portfolio of inspection reports allows for effective asset status monitoring and more economical forecasting of routine repairs. As an end-state, this will result in higher efficiency and increased safety for everyone involved, as well as surrounding areas.

 

Sample Application: AROWIND Project

In February of 2022, Deep Trekker, alongside VOYIS and HydroSurv, were the recipients of a multimillion-dollar grant to fund the Autonomous Remote Offshore Wind Inspection, Navigation, and Deployment Project (AROWIND). The project scope will be to demonstrate a fully remote USV based inspection solution for offshore wind farms.

 

Figure 4: Rendition of Project AROWIND Concept [8]

HydroSurv and Deep Trekker will collaboratively integrate the REVOLUTION ROV onto a USV, while developing a novel system that autonomously and reliably deploys the ROV once the survey site is reached. Remote control technologies will initially be employed for manual shoreside control, and vehicle autonomy will be slowly introduced using ultra-short baseline technology. The goal for autonomy is to remove any necessary human interaction and assist in the automation of survey trajectories.

This project will define a new standard for offshore wind farm inspection methodology using remote and resident deployment solutions. Remote autonomous inspection solutions can unlock the key to keeping up with asset management during exponential industry growth. By consolidating this solution in Canada, diverse local supply chains will grow in tandem with the offshore wind market over the next decade, solidifying Canadian manufacturing jobs in a changing economic environment. This project is expected to create 55 new direct jobs and an estimated 275 indirect jobs [8].

Sample Application: ‘Asset Insight’

Asset Insight, a Netherlands based visual inspection company, originally required a dive team to conduct any of their submerged inspections. This not only cost the organization significant amounts of time and money, but also came with the inherent risk associated whenever divers enter the water. Completing around 1,200 inspections a year on a variety of structures, these costs and risks would compound even further, due to the repeated frequency [2].

Figure 5: An ROV Utilizing a Thickness Gauge

Since introducing an on-board ROV, operators can perform convenient and efficient underwater inspections without having to put divers in danger. The team noted that the easy operation made a big difference in their choice to obtain a Deep Trekker specifically. In addition to being portable and straightforward to deploy, the controller is simple yet intuitive, with a very short learning curve to become comfortable using the vehicle. On top of this, organizations can frequently leave their systems online during tasks like tank inspections, since the ROV operators remain perfectly safe onshore.

 

Sample Application: SNOC

Sharjah National Oil Corporation (SNOC), one of the leading energy producers in the UAE, has also experienced the benefits of ROVs for asset management. They utilized a Deep Trekker ROV to inspect a subsea pipeline which spanned a total length of 14km. Previously, they would require a diver to conduct this inspection, which came accompanied by associated repeating costs, risks, and time of a dive of that scale.

 

Additional Applications: Seismic Ocean Bottom Nodes

Another submerged asset to address is offshore shallow water seismic nodes. These nodes are commonly used to collect subsurface data for oil and gas exploration and are an efficient alternative to ocean bottom cable surveys. Typically, shallow water nodes can operate in water up to 700m (2,300ft). For nodes at depths up to 305m (1,000ft), far beyond the physical capabilities of divers, ROVs are an effective tool to position these nodes.

 

Figure 6: Graphical Representation of Seismic Nodes [9]

By utilizing the vehicle’s grabber arm capabilities, operators can position nodes beside platforms, sea-floor wells and pipelines with ease. Typically, shallow water nodes operate for 15 days between collection and inspection, resulting in over two weeks of performance uncertainties. Due to their simple and rapid deployment, ROVs can also be used to quickly assess the nodes for any potential displacement issues.

References 

  1. Iea. (n.d.). World energy outlook 2018 – analysis. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.iea.org/reports/world-energy-outlook-2018
  2. M. G. (n.d.). The Future of Energy: Offshore Wind. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.deeptrekker.com/news/offshore-wind
  3. Frangoul, A. (2017, September 08). CNBC Sustainable Energy. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/08/there-are-over-341000-wind-turbines-on-the-planet-why-they-matter.html
  4.  Global Offshore Wind Report 2022. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://gwec.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/GWEC-Offshore-2022_update.pdf
  5. ESG risks of Aging Pipelines for U.S. Energy Infrastructure Investors. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.sustainalytics.com/esg-research/resource/investors-esg-blog/esg-risks-aging-pipelines-us
  6. Kaplan, L., & Milke, M. (2021, March 30). Circling the earth 11 times: Key facts about the Canada-US energy pipeline network. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.canadianenergycentre.ca/circling-the-earth-11-times-key-facts-about-the-canada-us-energy-pipeline-network
  7. David M. Uhlmann Jeffrey F. Liss Professor from Practice and Director. (2021, October 04). BP paid a steep price for the gulf oil spill. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://theconversation.com/bp-paid-a-steep-price-for-the-gulf-oil-spill-but-for-the-us-a-decade-later-its-business-as-usual-136905
  8.  Canada’s Ocean Supercluster announces $6.7M arowind project. (2022, February 17). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://oceansupercluster.ca/arowind-project/
  9. Advances ‘scale up’ nodal acquisition. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.aogr.com/magazine/sneak-peek-preview/advances-scale-up-nodal-acquisition

 

About the Author

Riley Kooh has been the Content Manager for Deep Trekker Robotics for over a year. Since joining the company in 2021, he has studied and produced a variety of research and technical papers, as well as long-form editorials surrounding the use of ROVs and Remote Pipe Crawlers throughout the Aquaculture, Offshore Energy, Infrastructure, Ocean Science, Police, and Defense industries. In his first year, he has seen his works be published in Aquafeed International, Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, Hydropower Magazine, The Journal of Ocean Technology, and More.”

 

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